3.11.2017

Thoughts about recent developments in cameras such as the Olympus EM1.2, the Panasonic GH5 and the Sony a6500.


Something is happening quickly in the camera market. It's either good or evil depending on your point of view. Or your career trajectory. But it is happening nonetheless. Still cameras are tranforming (like Optimus Prime) from dedicated still photography devices into nearly full-fledged video recording devices. And the trend seems to be accelerating and punishing the laggards in the field while rewarding video-centric early adopters. 

It's easy to say that it all started with the Nikon D90 or the Canon 5D mk2 but the reality is that smaller bridge cameras incorporated video modes long before those modes made the jump up to interchangeable lens, large sensor, still cameras. Doesn't matter when it started though, the trend is here and it's moving quicker and quicker; and may determine whether your favorite camera model comes to market and succeeds, across international lines. 

This is very evident in the progression of Olympus and Panasonic cameras. The GH5, which will hit the market in a couple of weeks, is much more of a video production camera than a still camera (although the two camps are in no way mutually exclusive). It offers more flexible menu options and capture file types for video than many dedicated video cameras at multiples of its price. It will soon be one of the very few consumer cameras to
offer 10 bit 4:2:2, 4K video on the market today. Consider that dedicated cameras like the Sony z150 are only offering 8 bit 4:2:0 capture at 50% more cost; and they are unable to come close to the still imaging quality of the GH5. 

Is the confluence of great video capabilities and great photo performance a fluke, or a happy coincidence? I don't think so. I believe that big camera companies looked to the world market, analyzed the trends, and decided that the majority of users demanded that their cameras be ambidextrous and they proceeded from the idea that world markets will define financial success or failure based on the features most in demand. 

One only has to look at the advertising markets to be able to read the writing on the walls. Just a few years ago print advertising and broadcast television ad placements represented the majority of ad dollar investments. Now the tables have shifted and fully 70+ % of the market is driven by web video and broadcast media. If it's on a screen it's going to be more and more likely to be in motion and not standing still. 

With less than 30% of ad dollars going to print placement the supremacy of print advertising (and investments in the one-niche tools to make print advertising) the balance has shifted. Advanced smart phones with great camera+software packages are making the capture of still images ever easier while the need to master storyline, shooting, movement, audio and editing have preserved a certain barrier to the lazy when it comes to creating watchable video. This means that good video producers are ever more in demand and the cameras they need to use are morphing quickly. 

So Olympus, Sony and Panasonic respond by shifting their products in the direction of offering features in demand by huge swaths of an international market of younger users who were raised with online video, and video programming in general. The bar to jump over for entry includes not just 4K video but actually,  very good 4K video. Gone are the days when makers could be half assed about their offerings by leaving off necessities for video production, like headphone jacks or the ability to change apertures on the fly, while shooting. 

They also realize that video users are demanding very good image stabilization in order to use their products as handheld devices. The new consumers follow the visual and aesthetic styles that are prevalent and widespread today. Three Jason Bourne movies later everything seems to be handheld in the video world with the exception of "old school" television commercials that are clearly aimed at your mother or your grandmother (Sorry Spike but television commercial demographics have skewed toward  females, statistically, for decades --- women in our culture still make a majority of buying decisions. Hence, they are the target for the majority of ads. And that's a fact, not a sexist opinion). Responding edit to a comment below....

The race is on right now amongst the big three, mirror-free, interchangeable lens camera makers to increase the performance of continuous auto focus in their systems which will benefit traditional photographers and solidify gains in market share in the video world. Once you can lock on to a moving face with utmost reliability you gain some real advantages for One Man Movie Making. 

The next generation of Sony and Panasonic sensors, with phase detect autofocus points on-chip, will add to the value of these cameras as cost effective, high quality, 4K video production tools---across the professional production spectrum. 

It seems that the transformation of still cameras into all terrain cameras isn't creating any compromises for either camp, rather the evolution is benefitting both traditional still camera users and dedicated videographers equally. 

Still shooters have more powerful tools with which to grab focus quicker and more reliably, without having to venture into the last century morass of the DSLR. Videographers get the codecs they want, the profiles they want,  and the image stabilization they want at a much lower cost than previous generations of "professional" "dedicated" video cameras. They gain enormous economies and lose out on things that have easy workarounds; such as the XLR connections for audio and internal neutral density filters. 

The first serious crossover cameras that I think were effective ENG (electronic news gathering)/documentary video cameras were the Sony RX10 and the copy-cat Panasonic fz1000. Both are amazingly fluid as video cameras. Both have menu items customized for video production. And the latest models have gone even further into the video camp. Without abandoning high quality still image creation.

To be honest, I did not buy the Panasonic FZ2500 to use as a still camera (although I will surely press it into service for photographs...). No, I bought it because I've watched my clients (and my friends and competitor's clients) shift  from wanting still images to needing video images. My most recent eight projects have illuminated the need for various and different cameras to offer the services that I want to offer (and which have good profit potential). 

While a Sony A7rii, shooting full frame 4K, along with a fast 85mm f1.4 lens, has a great look and works well for static interview situations, a lot of video projects depend on movement, transitioning from interior to exterior, and the demands of being able to move quickly and efficiently between shooting situations. The Panasonic is set up (to my mind) as mostly a video camera aimed at single person crews that need to be light on their feet and still deliver a quality video product. From shooting an interview to documenting a stage show from a distance.

The fz2500 checks good boxes. I bought one for run-and-gun, 1080p video projects. It has a solid, and high throughput 1080p codec, good image stabilization, more control over zooming and par focal emulation than my Sony RX10 cameras have, and the built-in neutral density filters are certainly convenient. Then there are basic production tools like a slate with audio tones and color bars, and a synchro scan feature that allows you to fine tune shutter angle to prevent seeing scan lines on monitors when filming. It's also helpful in subduing the effects of fluorescent light issues on locations. 

In every product line refresh I'm seeing more and more nods to video production capabilities. And it's not just in the mainstream mirror-free segment of the market. It's no coincidence that Canon's D80 features dual pixel focusing (current state of the art) which works amazingly well during video capture. It's no coincidence that excellent video capabilities are built in to both the Fuji and the Hasselblad mirrorless, medium format offerings. Or that a big selling point of Leica's SL camera is the 4K video capability, along with other attendant video features. 

As signal processors and CPUs follow Moore's law the video capabilities are increasingly intertwined with still camera image processing innovations. One augments the other. The faster processing that allows high bit depth, 4K imaging also allows much finer and more detailed still imaging processing. 

While hobbyists may decry the idea of video cameras sharing the same bodies as their still cameras, the path to the future seems pretty clear. It's not a question of whether or not video adds costs to still cameras but whether still cameras' imaging quality would have progressed nearly as quickly had not camera manufacturers been racing to solve image processing requirements for ever more complex video implementations. 

The world is changing. The world has changed. The readership for magazines has declined precipitously. The readership for physical newspapers is aging out toward unsustainability. The Washington Post, the New York Times and every other new outlet depends more and more on video programming, as does Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There's been a seismic shift in the way culture gets its culture. In five short years the use numbers have flipped from print dominance to moving images. The cameras makers have to provide the ability to produce these visual motion assets if they are to survive (and the jury is still out on their ultimate survival, given that Apple and Samsung have not slowed down their R&D on in-phone video capabilities for a second) and have a sustainable future. 

Rather than curse the evolution of visual culture I think it pays to be brave and embrace it. There is a wonderful sense of freedom and achievement that comes from new mastery. And there's a rich ecosystem waiting to help you and me make the transition. Your camera awaits. You may be the next Tarantino or J,J. Abrams. It's an interesting direction; the transition between still images to video, but it seems to be one of the few avenues left open to traditional camera makers. The smart ones are becoming multi-media tool makers as fast as they can. 

Hot lights and a mechanical camera on a copy stand. How last century....
And are those polarizing filter gels in front of those lights? How quaint....

Edit: I changed only the size of a few words for the benefit of reading impaired critics. 👮

23 comments:

Alex said...

More choice is a good thing. And since a camera is not a pie, more video doesnt necessarily mean less still qualities?

john gee said...

pickup tuck, station wagon ( estate car )....what's next?
S U V

Spike said...

I stopped reading after the comment about "your mother or grandmother." That was sexist and ageist and not like you at all, Kirk.

bpr said...

It's a simply another desperate, and failing attempt to stop the customers haemorrhaging but the average punter's video needs are possibly even better served by phones than stills. I've never shot video with a 'camera' but use my smartphone to shoot short clips on a regular basis. My wife has a gimbal for her iPhone 6s Plus, and the results from the gimbal combined with the in camera IS are quite amazing.

joel said...

I think you're right but there are two other important factors: stiff competition and an existing video camera development. I don't think it's coincidental that the reason exception of Olympus camera companies without a dedicated video arm have a more limited video implementation in there cameras. On the flipside, Sony and Cannon both have large video camera segments that are threatened by the disruption of hybrid cameras. Sony seems to be slowly coming around, but Cannon seems pretty entrenched. Panasonic, who's professional camcorders have always seemed s bit more niche, seems to view hybrids as good for the brand overall.

I also think for smaller formats, like micro 4/3, video is not only easier to implement because those sensors scan faster but they need to fight harder to maintain relevance in an shrinking market still dominated by Canon and where MUCH larger sensors (still a big benefit for a lot of still photography, or perceived to be) are becoming the norm and expectation for enthusiasts.

Video is driving demand but if it were such a primary driver Canon and Nikon would be doing much worse right now.

Ian said...

Is that lighting photo of Dean Collins?

Coincidence (if it is), a friend is helping me with aspects of photo business. Last week he showed a recording of Dean Collins lighting some portraits. I mentioned Kirk Tuck in Texas. Friend said, that Kirk would have learnt from or been influenced by Dean Collins.

I always value your real world working photographer perspective on this business.

IanM

Wally said...

I started working in Media Small Screen working in Radio and TV. Moved into technololgy later in my career and now we all are back to the small screen again. Only the small screen is a tablet, laptop, monitor, PC hooked to our home flatscreem, or smartphone.

I have to admit I think more about video and how to get good sound into home movies-Home Video????? The upgrade to my current APSC DLSR was partly based to two mic inputs. Now I gotta start shooting move video!!!!! Groan, GAS is shifting to include Video and, groan again, I have to pick up editing skills.

Anonymous said...

You think the polarizing filters on the lights are "quaint"? Cross Polarized lighting is still the best way to control reflections. With them we can completely eliminate reflections on chrome metal. Using the polarizing filter on the lens we can dial in our reflections and have more control of lighting effects on the final product image.

Some "old school" stuff still works well. Kirk, you should know this stuff well.

Craig Yuill said...

An all-too-common comment that comes from "photography"-forum posters goes something like "I couldn't care less about video. All I care about are the still-photo capabilities. I wish camera manufacturers would get rid of video features and shave $X-hundred off the price.". Unfortunately one major camera manufacturer - hint: it begins with the letter "N" - seems to have had these people in mind when designing products over the last several years.

Video is a feature of most of today's cameras that many of us are delighted with and want in a big way. Unfortunately, my brand of choice - Nikon - has been frustratingly-slow to properly implement video in its cameras. I bought a little Nikon V1 at the fire-sale price a few years ago because it was a decent (albeit, not perfect) stills and video camera, and available at a price I couldn't refuse. I liked it enough that I bought a second (used) body for a pittance. I use both of them mostly for video, but gladly take stills with them when I need to. Newer Nikon 1 bodies have better video specs, imaging engines, and sensors than the V1 - but the overall specs are limited for the price that Nikon charges. It frustrates me to no end that Nikon, instead of seeing the true potential of the system - as a good hybrid stills/video system for enthusiasts or even pros that could complement their fine stills-oriented DSLRs - instead chose to treat the system as a "gateway" system for compact-camera-toting soccer moms and dads to eventually move up to Nikon full-frame DSLRs. No new Nikon 1 products have been introduced in close to three years, and it appears that Nikon is getting ready to kill off this system that has a great deal of unrealized potential.

Recent rumours indicate that Nikon is undergoing a big reorganization and a serious rethinking of their product lines. Hopefully its executives will pull their collective heads out of their collective butts and put on the table products that enthusiasts and pros want. Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, and (yes even) Canon seem to have figured it out.

Michael Matthews said...

Nailed it again, Kirk.

What's more, the quality of your video output -- the product of a near heroic transition effort -- shows that you know what you're talking about. Your voice emanates from the preferred portal. Unfortunately, there is not a lot I can do about it other than nod approvingly.

Rather than rage about the velocity of change, lamenting the way Facebook and Instagram have replaced print publications, and declaring the world well on its way to Hell, I can only sit here in my ratty recliner watching the CBS Evening News on my 720p plasma set. Muting the endless cascade of bladder-and-bowl spots. Wondering why I can never read the text messages displayed on phones in cop shows later at night.

It's true. Some of us have aged out of full participation. But that doesn't mean the progress you describe should...or could...stop.

TMJ said...

I agree with your analysis.

What I would like to see is more thought given by the manufacturers (Olympus, Panasonic and Sony) to getting audio in and out more easily. I use balanced XLR for everything audio, but am constrained by the consumer interfaces on these compact, but immensely capable image making devices.

Anonymous said...

You once, not that long ago, wrote about the impact of sending material to prospective customers using the US Postal Service, rather than using email, like everybody else does.

Difficult with video material.

Christer

Scott Kirkpatrick said...

I think your comment about the single person crew being the sweet spot will give the M43 cameras a big advantage. Aren't you now carrying around a rig frame with prreamps, wireless mike receivers and a serious monitor all clamped on at various angles? Couldn't that go away with 10 bit recording to the internal two chips, a good flip-out LCD, in-body stabilization, and the high depth of field to help make focusing easier?

I have a hunch you will be using all Panasonic equipment a year from now.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the many who simply don't want to spend the time it takes to look at videos. I find most online videos miss the mark in providing helpful information; I generally don't bother to click on YouTube links (unless my wife insists); and we both channel surf to avoid the ads on TV. On the other hand, we receive some quality magazines and catalogs and usually examine them rather closely.

I shot video years ago (including two short commercial productions) and they are now all neatly stored on DVDs and in film cans.

It's clear that the semi-pro video equipment is becoming very attractive, but I think the "writing on the wall" that is influencing the shift in advertising is a bit suspicious.

Kirk Tuck said...

To the anonymous poster just above. The blog never suggested that new, video enabled cameras were driving advertising to video. It's the reverse; the momentum toward video is driving the camera market. I'm happy you and your wife still read print. But your single, anecdotal evidence isn't a metric that gives us much information one way or another. Whether you like it or not trends are easily measured and you can act on them or not as you please.

Kirk Tuck said...

Christer, to depend on one medium for all a business's marketing is pretty much suicidal. We do e-mail blasts, we write letters, we send post cards we invite people to see video via links. None of the media are meant to be "stand alone." Whats your point?

Kirk Tuck said...

To the anonymous poster who questioned my (tongue in cheek) reference to crossed polarizing filters as "quaint." And suggested I might benefit from learning about such ===== That is a self portrait. It's me working with the crossed polarizing filters about twenty years ago. And guess what? I still understand the concept, know how to use the filters and am trying to become less pedantic... A pursuit most of us might benefit from.

Kirk Tuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry W. Venz said...

1. The big traditional DSLR maker's attempts to attract the amateur video market--the only market where there's big money to be made--is futile, That market is being fulfilled by i-phones and the many new quality cell phones on the market--a trend that is only accelerating as amateurs abandon DSLR's with or without a mirror.
2. What's left are the serious photographic artists and professional photographers. The vast majority of US neither want or need video and view it as an unsustainable business model. Good money can still be made in photographic art and portraiture by producing ARCHIVAL limited editions in art or large wall prints as family heirlooms that can be enjoyed simply by looking at the installation on the wall. Customers do not perceive video as a high value product --Hey, what's the big deal, they make their own cell phone videos all the time--nor do they view them as an archival heirloom worth any serious investment.
3. Value is perceived in limited numbers of extreme quality in most any product. So, how am I to make more money as an artist by increasing my output to 24fps ! You only have to look at the de-valuation of the wedding market where photographers bury the bride and groom in thousands of images to see the results of quantity over quality.

Kirk Tuck said...

Ian M. Dean Collins was a great teacher and a really good photographer. Mostly our careers were concurrent. I do own his series of classes on a DVD (originally published on VHS tape) and like to watch him explain lighting. We shared a taste for good, soft light with appropriate transitions. If you can find the DVDs online they are great. Worth the price.

Kirk Tuck said...

Wow. Jerry. We live in two completely separate universes. Advertising clients don't think of video as something they don't need or want, they now think it is the bedrock of marketing going forward. Value is delivered the same way it always have been in advertising: unique, intellectual property. Save me from consumer customers, I only want to work for corporations. Their checkbooks are much bigger and they come back again and again. I think I'd have a hard time selling three or four wall sized portraits per month to the same family! But sometimes we do many jobs for the same commercial client in the space of a month. Not much selling required after the first engagement. Everyone understands the program.

We could argue for days on this. Let's let the market decide. Check back with me in a year and let me know that advertising clients have abandoned video programming in mass. Then maybe our universes will collide.

"no one will ever abandon the Speed Grahics for those "miniature" medium format cameras! They are just not professional..."

Bumpy said...

Thoughtful post from pro perspective. As an enthusiast there are some other important factors that drive the change toward video convergence for my needs.

I adopted digital video before digital stills because in the late 90s 640x480 was as good as video got, but the much higher 1.4mp resolution stills sensors made for a lousy still image. Waited more than 10 years before I could afford to get my videos off tape and on to hard drives. Even then pro editing software was way out of reach financially and cpu could hardly edit at all. Today FCP is affordable, my retina iMac handles 4k video fluidly, and I have something like 6TB mirrored storage. Affordable compute for video store and edit is a key enabler. If video still required unique storage media (tape) cameras could not converge.

With storage and compute in place simple economics dictate convergence - as a consumer with a budget will I choose separate cameras that each cost half what I can afford, or one camera that does both and costs 100% of my budget? Easy to see that one camera that does both requires small incremental cost to manufacture so can provide superior quality and higher margins vs. two cams that are mostly redundant (lens, body, sensor, electronics, ...) but cost half as much. Logic holds whether I can afford $500 or $5000 on photo/video gear.

Now if only there were a techno fix for being lazy, I might learn to make videos that aren't a chore to watch. Best observation in the blog post is calling out the huge step up in skills required to make decent video. IMO, video is still the big leagues even if the gear has become affordable to the masses.

Glad Mr. Tuck is willing to share so much. Even if I never master video I will surely come closer thanks to this blog. Very much appreciated.

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